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GOP news conference turns into protest against state COVID response

  • The press conference that turned into a rally at the State House on Tuesday, September 14, 2021. concord monitor photographs — GEOFF FORESTER

  • David Cawthron (center) of Nashua came with his father (far left) to the press conference that turned into a rally at the State House on Tuesday, September 14, 2021.

  • The grassy lawn of the state house to hear House Speaker Sherman Packard speak about the Biden administration's new vaccine mandate, which will apply to millions of Americans employed by mid-sized businesses on Tuesday, September 13, 2021. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

New Hampshire Bulletin
Published: 9/14/2021 9:47:16 PM
Modified: 9/14/2021 9:47:19 PM

Editor’s Note: This story was first published on New Hampshire Bulletin.

Republican House members and a large crowd outside the Statehouse on Tuesday agreed in their opposition to the Biden administration’s new vaccine mandates. But the crowd made clear they think lawmakers and Gov. Chris Sununu are doing far too little to stop the mandates.

Meanwhile, one Republican House member made equally clear he thinks the Republican lawmakers, led by House Speaker Sherman Packard, have gone too far. Following the rally, Rep. Bill Marsh, of Wolfeboro, announced he had switched his party affiliation from Republican to Democrat.

“I cannot stand idly by while extremists reject the reasonable precautions of vaccinations and masks which made (the state’s ability to reopen) happen,” he said in a written statement that also noted the Supreme Court’s recent order upholding the constitutionality of mandated COVID-19 vaccines. “And so I have reluctantly changed my party affiliation. I urge others to consider what is happening and come to their own conclusions.”

House leadership announced the news conference Monday in response to the Biden administration’s recent order mandating COVID-19 vaccines for federal workers, Medicare- and Medicaid-certified health care agencies, and employers with 100 or more workers. Groups that have opposed Sununu’s pandemic response rallied supporters to the event.

Their signs protesting vaccine mandates echoed the protests of the many House Republicans in attendance. But they came wanting more than lawmakers’ statements of opposition to the vaccine; they wanted to hear lawmakers’ plans and were unsatisfied when they were told to contact the federal delegation with concerns and vote them out of office.

“We’re trying to help you,” Packard told the crowd. “That’s why we’re here today. We’re trying to help you, but you need to help yourselves. You need to get a hold of the federal delegation, and you need to tell them that they have to stop this in Washington.”

At one point, several people in the crowd turned their backs on lawmakers at the podium. “We want action. We’re tired of just words,” they shouted. Another person yelled “Do your job!” Some faulted Sununu, who issued a statement Monday opposing the vaccine mandate but was not at the news conference, saying the governor is a “RINO,” short for “Republican in name only.”

Terese Grinnell, who said she is a nurse who works with critically ill patients but declined to say where, interrupted the news conference, pleading with lawmakers to protect her colleagues from mandates.

She said requiring health care workers to get the vaccine will cause a workforce shortage when health care workers quit their jobs. Earlier in the rally, Grinnell said mandating a vaccine that she sees as experimental violates informed consent regulations. (There is no federal informed consent requirement for vaccines.)

“The risk that I’m going to lose my job is not consent,” she said.

Midway through the news conference, Rep. Fred Doucette, a Salem Republican, tried to calm the crowd, saying: “Listen guys, we’re on the same page here. We’re on the same team.” He added, “You’re yelling at the wrong people.”

Following the event, Packard declined to say if House Republicans are drafting specific legislation opposing the mandate but said he expects someone will. Asked what actions the House Republicans are considering, Packard said they’ve talked about a lawsuit but have not decided. “This isn’t something that you just snap your fingers and all of a sudden it happens,” he said. “We are looking at any avenue we may have as a Legislature. I think (a lawsuit) is going to have to come from the governor.”

Asked for Sununu’s response, his office referred the Bulletin to the statement he issued Monday, opposing the vaccine requirement.

“Instead of working collaboratively with governors across America to increase the vaccination rate, President Biden skips our weekly calls and issues overreaching mandates from Washington,” Sununu said in the statement. “I am working directly with my fellow governors to see how best we can push back against this federal overreach. I am as pro-vaccine as it gets, but I do not support this mandate from Washington as it is not the answer.”

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